Under the lights, p.14
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       Under the Lights, p.14

         Part #2 of The Field Party series by Abbi Glines
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  “Really?” There was a smile in his tone.

  “Yep. I thought you were great. Still do.”

  He didn’t say anything right away. I gave him time to work through his thoughts. “I’m sorry I haven’t called you.”

  He was a kid. With two parents who hated me. That wasn’t his fault. “It’s okay. I understand. I made big mistakes, and you not wanting to talk to me made sense. There were times I didn’t want to even look at myself in the mirror. But I’ve missed you and thought about you all the time.”

  “I think about you too. I miss you reading Percy Jackson to me at night. Mom won’t do it.”

  Chance was dyslexic and he loved books and reading, but it was so hard on him it took him hours to read a couple pages. So at night I used to read him a chapter from the new Percy Jackson novel he would get from the library at school. It was our thing. I missed that too.

  “I miss reading to you. Have you been keeping up your own reading?” I asked.

  “Yeah, I’m trying. I made an eighty-five on my literature test.” He was so proud of himself.

  “That’s fantastic! I’m so proud of you.”

  “I smoked pot with George Hasher last week,” he added, and my stomach dropped.

  Shit.

  “Chance,” I said slowly, trying to figure out what to say to him. After all that had happened to me, I thought he’d never touch the stuff.

  “I wanted to understand why you did it.”

  That hurt. More than he would ever know. I put a hand on my stomach and sat down in the nearest chair. My knees were slightly weak, and I was sick.

  “Because I was stupid. That’s why I did it, and my stupidity changed my life. In a terrible, terrible way.” Not that I had to tell him this. He already knew.

  “I know,” he said. “I just wanted to understand . . . things.”

  He wanted to understand how Poppy and I could have forgotten about her little sister long enough for her to fall in the pool, hit her head, and drown. The autopsy revealed she’d been in the water for over an hour. There had been no saving her. Poppy hadn’t been able to live with the guilt and pain. So she’d done the only thing she knew to do. She’d taken her own life days later.

  “Did it help you?” I asked while wanting to scream at him to never do it again. He needed to know how it ruined lives and ended them. It wasn’t safe and fun. It was evil. I learned in a way I never wanted Chance to experience.

  “Yeah, I didn’t care about anything. I thought life was hilarious. It was freeing, but I get how that is dangerous. I won’t do it again.”

  Good. Relief rushed through me. I didn’t want Chance to suffer what I would never be without. Regret, guilt, loss, emptiness. Those would follow me my entire life. Because I had wanted to be high and drunk with friends. We had so stupidly thought staying at home made us safe. We weren’t driving or in an environment that could harm us. But we hadn’t considered that a crisis could happen and we’d need to be alert enough to deal with it. Even at home.

  “I don’t hate you,” Chance said, and tears burned my eyes.

  “Good, because I love you more than life.”

  “I love you too.”

  I Had to Let It Go

  CHAPTER 34

  GUNNER

  I had avoided her for four days. I hadn’t even made eye contact with her. It was game day, and I had one focus in mind. Winning the game. Once we had won, I was taking Serena to my truck and spending several hours. It was homecoming, and I was ready for it.

  Walking out of my second period, Asa and Willa were directly in my path talking. Willa was smiling up at him, and I watched them closely. When had Asa and Willa become so chummy?

  “I’ll see you at lunch,” he said as I got closer to them.

  She turned to leave, and her eyes met mine. For a moment there was a flash that one could have mistaken for her being pleased. But then they went empty, and she walked away as if I hadn’t even been standing there. That burned. I’d asked for it, but it still motherfucking burned.

  “What’s up with you and Willa being so buddy-buddy?” I asked Asa, unable to pretend like I didn’t care. Where the fuck was Brady? He had a wide-open opportunity here, and he was blowing it.

  “Taking her to the dance tonight,” he said, beaming like he had won the lottery.

  “I thought Brady was,” I said, not really knowing if that was even close to true. I just assumed Brady would ask her.

  Asa frowned. “Naw, he’s taking Ivy.”

  He never got the nerve to dump Ivy. Well, then he deserved this. He could watch Willa dance with Asa and sulk all night. I wouldn’t be dancing. I had other plans. Ones that didn’t make me think about my parents and my house I still hadn’t been back to.

  I was going to have to go home after school though. I had to get my shit for tonight. Hopefully neither parent would be there. Rhett still was ignoring my calls and texts. I was trying not to let it get to me. But it was. We’d always been close. This had to have been hard for Rhett to hear. I’d known most of the lies for years. But I couldn’t talk to him and check on him if he wouldn’t return my calls or texts.

  Brady stopped Willa, and I watched them. He was all smiles, and I knew he was liking the taking-her-to-school thing. He left earlier and always spent more time on his appearance. Why he let Asa get a chance at her I didn’t understand. He obviously hadn’t kissed her yet. Damn, that kiss. It was in my every thought. I was dreaming about it. That kiss was controlling me, and I didn’t even care.

  “I’m picking her up for school starting Monday. I asked her, and she said yes. Glad you decided to toss that job off to a taken guy so I had a chance.”

  Shit.

  What was Brady’s deal?

  “You don’t even know her.” My comment sounded more annoyed than I had meant it to. But whatever.

  Asa shrugged. “Gonna get to know her. I like what I do know.”

  She had hell in her life he couldn’t even begin to understand. It wasn’t my place to tell him, and her secrets would remain that. Her secrets. I’d protect them.

  “Don’t hurt her.” Okay, that came out as a warning. What the hell—it was.

  “Don’t plan on it. Jesus back off. I like her.”

  The urge to slam my fist into his face was strong but not the best move. I knew Asa. We were friends. He was a good guy. I was being ridiculous and maybe a bit jealous. I had to let this go. I wasn’t going to ever have a real relationship, so I wasn’t ever going to have Willa. That kiss . . . well, it was my warning. That I couldn’t even have a small taste of her. I was too fucked up.

  She needed a Brady Higgens, dammit. Why wasn’t he taking advantage of this? God, he was a dumbass. He didn’t even like Ivy.

  West used to help keep Brady’s head on straight, but lately Maggie was all West could think about. I wonder if the first time he kissed Maggie he’d felt the earth move. That would make sense as to why he became so attached to her so quickly.

  “I’ll see you at lunch,” Asa said with a look of annoyance at my ignoring him, then left me there. Thinking about the reasons why that kiss with Willa couldn’t mean more.

  • • •

  In my avoiding-Willa plan I hadn’t been faced with her sitting at my lunch table with the team. And Serena all but perched on my lap. This was awkward. It hadn’t been before, and that stupid kiss had made it this way. Thankfully, Asa hadn’t taken a spot close to me, so I didn’t have them directly there beside me. After my comment in the hall earlier, Asa had made the move to sit down the table closer to Nash and Ryker. West and Brady were the two closest to me. Which meant Ivy and Maggie were also. It was obvious that Maggie wasn’t a fan of Ivy or Serena, so she didn’t appear comfortable.

  Ivy was chattering on about those stupid brownies her momma made for Brady like she was the best girlfriend on the planet, and I tried to ignore her by straining to hear what Asa and Willa were talking about. Interestingly enough, so was Brady. He wasn’t paying any attention to Ivy eit
her. And I could tell he felt guilty about that. Which made no sense. In the least. Why was he even wasting time with her? I never understood that.

  “Brownies are good, but not much beats those cookies of Mrs. Higgens’s,” I said, wanting to shut the girl up so I could hear Willa.

  “I second that. Those cookies are incredible,” West agreed.

  Ivy shut up, although she looked ready to toss us both across the room. I watched as Willa tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear, and a shy smile played on her lips. Asa was working his charm, apparently. She was about to blush.

  And I was jealous as hell.

  If I could stop watching this, it would help. But I was punishing myself. Why, I wasn’t sure. The universe had chosen to punish me by giving me life. That should be enough for any one person.

  I wondered if Willa felt the same. Her mother hadn’t wanted her for eleven years, and now she was back here, unwanted again. We had that in common. Children born to those who hadn’t wanted us but kept us all the same. If anyone could understand me, it would be Willa. She’d be able to truly get what I was feeling. She’d felt similar.

  But she deserved more. I was damaged. I’d never be good for her. It was time Willa had a chance at something better. Wishing I could be that didn’t help either of us. I had to let it go.

  People Make Mistakes

  CHAPTER 35

  WILLA

  The entire lunch he’d watched me. Why? He was avoiding me like I was going to cling to him and demand marriage over a kiss. If he was so scared of getting near me and my suddenly turning into Crazy Girl, then why was he watching me? It was annoying. It messed with my head, and I was thinking agreeing to go to that dance tonight was a bad idea.

  The blue dress I had worn to homecoming last year at my school hung on my closet door. So many memories went with that dress. They all had Poppy in them. We had fun that night. It was before the pot smoking had started and the drinking. Life had been safe then. Easy.

  Why had we thought getting high was better? Why hadn’t we stayed that way? We’d had fun back then. We had laughed and enjoyed life. But we’d let one guy into our world, and it had changed it all. Forever.

  I wasn’t sure I could wear that dress. Not again. I sank down onto the edge of my bed and stared at it. The desire to shove it back in my closet and curl up in bed was strong. I couldn’t though. I’d said yes when Asa had asked me to the dance. I hadn’t thought about it. I’d just said yes.

  He was too nice for me to tell him no now. I liked him, and he seemed to like me. Then I had to go to this dance. But first I had to go to the game and watch him play. Lifting my eyes back up, I looked at the only dress I owned that was remotely appropriate. But I just couldn’t wear it.

  Sighing, I threw myself back on the bed and closed my eyes. I had three hours to get ready before Nonna would have to take me to the game. I wouldn’t see Asa until afterward, seeing as they didn’t go home on game day. He was with his team right now. My other option had been to ride with Ivy, and I’d opted out of that offer. She was nuts.

  A knock on my bedroom door was brief before Nonna opened it on up. There were no locks on the interior doors of the house. There never had been. When I was younger, I hadn’t cared. Now I liked my privacy, so it kinda sucked.

  “You decide on what you’re wearing?” she asked me.

  I glanced back at the dress and frowned. “No.”

  Nonna followed my gaze, then walked into the room a little ways. “That the one you wore last year?”

  Nodding, I looked away from it again. I hadn’t been able to throw it out. Wearing it was too painful, but it was a memory of Poppy. I couldn’t part with it.

  “I’ve got a few of your mother’s old dresses packed away. I might can alter them a little if you find one you want to wear.”

  I hadn’t realized Nonna had kept anything of my mother’s. They weren’t very close. “How bad are they?”

  Nonna smiled and shrugged. “Not bad. Fashion hasn’t changed too much in the last sixteen years. You were one when she wore two of them.”

  That was probably my best option. I stood up and nodded. “Then let’s go do this.”

  Not once in my life had I ever been inside my nonna’s closet. I’d slept in her room as a child when I was scared, but I never got in her closet. She opened it up and motioned for me to come to her. “There’s a couple in here that I think will fit just fine.”

  I wasn’t so sure about this, but I was going to be open-minded. At least no one would have on the same circa-2001 dress. I walked over to her as she pushed her clothing aside and reached to the back of the closet near the wall.

  The first dress she pulled out was a pink chiffon with a ballerina-type skirt. I was sure that was all the rage back in the day, but I wasn’t feeling it. I crumpled my nose and shook my head. Nonna chuckled. “I wasn’t a fan of it back then, either. But your mother had to have it.”

  If this was my mother’s taste in high school, we weren’t going to have success.

  Next Nonna pulled out a cream baby-doll-style dress that was strapless and had an overlay of lace. It had a timeless look. Almost 1950s or earlier. I loved it. I reached for that one and held it up to me in front of the mirror. It fell a few inches above my knees. The only problem was I had no shoes for this.

  “If you like that one, I have a pair of gold ballet flats your mother wore with it. She wore a seven then, like you.”

  “You still have them?” I asked, amazed.

  Nonna nodded. “Yes. I thought one day you might need to use her things, so I kept them. Looks like I was right.”

  Again I wished that my nonna was my mother. She was a much better one than her daughter. I hadn’t been a regret for Nonna. She had wanted and accepted me from the beginning. My mother made sure to remind me over and over that I had ruined her teen years.

  “Thanks.” I tried to mask the emotion in my voice. It was a simple thing, keeping clothes I might need to borrow one day. But she had done it for me. That made it special. I didn’t feel special often. Nonna had always been the one to give me that.

  She smiled at me as she held out a shoe box. “Go on and get ready for your night. It’s time you enjoyed yourself a little. Living in regret and guilt ain’t healthy.”

  Nonna hadn’t asked me the details of that night. She knew what my mother had told her, but not once had she asked me. I wanted to tell her my truth. My side of the story. It wasn’t much better than what my mother had told, but it was the real story.

  “I didn’t know Quinn was there. Poppy’s little sister,” I started, and waited to see if she’d tell me to be quiet like my mother and stepfather had when I’d tried to explain. When she remained silent, I continued. “When I got there, I thought it was just us. We had friends coming over, and we were planning the party. We had been all week. Poppy’s parents had left Quinn upstairs in bed asleep and told Poppy to watch her. Poppy didn’t tell me. She didn’t tell anyone Quinn was there. I think she thought everyone would leave if there was a kid there. I’m still not sure why. . . . I know she never imagined Quinn would get out of bed and go outside. Quinn was such a deep sleeper.”

  I paused and waited, but Nonna didn’t say anything. “I shouldn’t have been smoking and drinking. I knew that, but I’d grown to enjoy the escape. All my worries and issues at home went away, and I enjoyed myself. But if I’d known Quinn was there, I’d have never done it. We always took care of Quinn when she was home. Never did any of that stuff when we were supposed to be watching her. I often wonder if Poppy had already been high when her parents left her with Quinn. That’s the only thing that comes close to making sense.”

  Poppy loved her little sister. Quinn could be a pain sometimes, but Poppy protected her. We both did. I’d been so confused when I’d run outside to see Quinn’s body floating in the pool. Why was she there? Where had she come from?

  Poppy hadn’t stopped screaming. Not when the ambulance arrived or the cops came. They had to sedate her to c
alm her down. Three days she was sedated because while awake all she did was scream and cry Quinn’s name. It was the fourth day, when she had woken up alone, that she’d gone to her father’s closet and found his pistol, then took her life.

  “Tragedy strikes us all at one point in our life. People make mistakes, and some are lucky enough to walk away without lasting marks, while others live a lifetime with the choice they made. Can’t change the past, Willa. But you can help others not make the same mistake.” Nonna trusted me. She believed in me again. My heart felt full as I saw the love in her eyes. I hadn’t felt loved in a very long time.

  I thought about that the entire time I was getting dressed. I wanted a way to make Quinn’s and Poppy’s lives worthwhile. Make their marks on this world important and remembered. Thanks to Nonna, I had an idea.

  What Is She Wearing?

  CHAPTER 36

 
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